I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The acceding countries Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia, the associated countries Burgaria, Romania and Turkey and the EFTA country, member of the European Economic Area, Iceland declare that they align themselves with this statement.
The EU welcomes steps already taken in the international arena towards advancement of persons with disabilities. While it is undeniable that significant progress has been made, the fact is that persons with disabilities are still unable to fully enjoy human rights on an equal basis. That is why the EU supports calls for an international convention to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities. We view this as an important initiative, one that will help to shape international opinion on the enjoyment of rights of persons with disabilities over the coming years.
The report of the Secretary General "Overview of issues and trends related to advancement of persons with disabilities" presented to this Committee session traces back the progress made by the international community in tackling disability issues in a human rights perspective since the adoption by the UN GA of 1982 World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons.
In the light of these past 20 years of international cooperation in the field of disability, we have to recognize that the goals of full participation and equality in the World Programme of Action, as well as the new focus on persons with disabilities as full members of the societies in which they live, are still valid.
At the international level, the United Nations system organizations have been working hard to introduce developmental approaches to disability, and the outcomes of the last world conferences and summits, including last year Second World Assembly on Ageing, have highlighted a new concern to address the specific needs and circumstances of persons with disabilities in the frame of a society for all.
It is undeniable that considerable and significant progress has been achieved as result of United Nations system activities. The most significant has been in relation to changes in attitudes and perceptions of the needs and expectations of persons with disabilities at governmental and society level. And we all know that this was not an easy task. The UN Decade of Disabled Persons has been a fruitful time frame in which the new concepts and approaches contained in the Programme of Action have been gradually mainstreamed into national policies and turned into shared values. As it is said in the report, "a new understanding of living with a disability - as something which could affect anyone in the course of a normal human life cycle - has been shaped".
The Report of the Secretary-General 'Issues and emerging trends related to the advancement of persons with disabilities' examines the implications of this critical reorientation of perspective on policies concerning population ageing, persons with mental health issues, with active acute conditions, on core issues like accessibility, on collection of data and statistics, on policies related to accessible information and communication technologies and on development cooperation programmes of the UN. All the implications in these fields have to do with the furtherance of the equality of opportunities for the persons with disabilities.
The special emphasis on the equalization of opportunities and the adoption by the Assembly of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in 1993 has provided useful practical guidance for the development of disabilities sensitive national policies, plans and legislation and allowed for the setting up of a monitoring process. In this respect the monitoring and promotional activities of the Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development have increased the understanding of the Standard Rules.
On behalf of the European Union, I would like to express our gratitude to the former Special Rapporteur Mr Bengt Lindqvist for his dedicated and thorough work over the past eight years, and on the occasion to welcome the appointment by the Secretary General of Sheikha Hessa bint Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani, who will have the full and firm support of the European Union.
According to the findings of the Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development, the Standard Rules have been recognized and implemented by Governments but there are also shortcomings and a constant need for more effective governmental actions to promote the equalization of opportunities. In order to strengthen the implementation of the Standard Rules, the Special Rapporteur has urged Governments to take further measures and advanced a direct dialogue between the Member States, local non-governmental organizations and other intergovernmental bodies. Concrete options to complement and further develop the Standard Rules were put forward by the previous Special Rapporteur. We look forward to the completion of this work by the newly appointed Ms al- Thani.
Above all, the Special Rapporteur has considerably increased the visibility of disability as a human rights issue. In his second and third reports, Mr Lindqvist, identified progress in the areas of human rights and disability. The Special Rapporteur noted that the Standard Rules could support the monitoring of human rights in the UN treaty monitoring bodies and serve as a reference when various provisions of existing conventions are applied on the basis of disability needs. The European Union supports all concrete efforts to further mainstream the disability perspective into the monitoring mechanisms of the six core United Nations human rights conventions.
The European Union is committed to a rights-based approach to questions concerning persons with disabilities. In 1996, the Council of Ministers of the European Union adopted a Resolution on equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities. The Resolution puts emphasis on identifying and removing the various barriers to equal opportunity and full participation in society of persons with disabilities.
Following the 1996 Resolution, the Council of the European Union reaffirmed the Union's commitment to the principle of equality of opportunity in the development of comprehensive policies in the field of disability and to the principle of avoiding or eliminating any form of negative discrimination on the sole ground of disability. This led to the introduction in the EC Treaty of a general anti-discrimination Article, which enables the Community to combat discrimination inter alia on the grounds of disability.
On the basis of this new Treaty Article, the Council adopted on 27th November 2000, the Directive 2000/78 on the establishment of a General Framework for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation, which covers also disability. With regard to disability, this Directive recognises that the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in the workplace and vocational training can constitute discrimination. In practical terms, such accommodation includes measures to adapt the workplace to persons with disabilities, in order to facilitate their access to employment. Rather than aiming to achieve identical results for persons with disabilities as compared to non-disabled persons, this Directive aims to ensure that persons with disabilities are offered an equal opportunity to achieve those results.
Such an approach is also consistent with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which sets out the principle of non-discrimination based on any grounds, including disability, and with Article 26 which sets out that the Union recognizes and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration, and participation in the life of the community.
Furthermore, the European Union has proclaimed 2003 as the European Year of the Persons with Disabilities, with the aim of raising awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities to protection against discrimination and to full and equal enjoyment of their rights.
In two other important fields, research and data collection, and promotion of non governmental organizations working for advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities, significant progress has been achieved in our countries.
In a recent meeting in Malaga (Spain) last month, the Ministers responsible for integration policies for persons with disabilities of the Council of Europe adopted new commitments in a Ministerial Declaration entitled "Progressing towards full participation as citizens" in an explicit recognition that further progress has to be made.
But the fact is that some of the human rights and fundamental freedoms contained in the European and international conventions on human rights are still not fully accessible to many persons with disabilities including women and girls. Across Europe and over the world, persons with disabilities suffer discrimination and prejudice when exercising their rights to respect for private and family life, enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, social security, adequate housing, education and work.
At the Malaga Conference, the Ministers took note of the major political, economic, social and technological changes occurred in Europe in the last decade and their consequent impact on the approach to disability policies. New trends are emerging taking into account the population ageing process, the challenges and opportunities offered by the new information and communication technologies, the changing patterns of employment and unemployment and the future of social protection systems.
Ministers discussed ways and means of promoting citizenship and full participation of persons with disabilities by developing effective legal and policy provisions and by implementing innovative approaches in service provision. They set the cornerstones for the development of a European Action Plan on disability for the next decade, based on a human rights approach to disability and on a genuine partnership between governments, social partners and civil society, including persons with disabilities themselves.
Finally, the Ministers invited the Council of Europe institutions to make use of their extensive experience in human rights matters to play an active role in the forthcoming negotiations in the frame of the UN initiative relative to the elaboration of an international convention to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.
18 June 2003